By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — To be effective in helping to shape public policies on a broad range that affect them and their constituents, nonprofits need to do a better job framing their positions from the perspective of the Republicans who now control the governor’s office and a so-called “super majority” in the state legislature.
That was the advice of two policy experts who spoke to nonprofit leaders at a policy briefing in Raleigh sponsored by the Triangle Community Foundation and N.C. Center for Nonprofits.
Nonprofits need to learn to communicate more effectively with lawmakers and other government officials in Raleigh, David Heinen, director of public policy and advocacy for the Center for Nonprofits, told 140 people attending the briefing.
He and Ran Coble, executive director of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, reviewed the policy agenda likely to be addressed by Gov. Pat McCrory and state lawmakers, as well as the Obama administration and Congress.
Those policies involve issues that include taxes, energy, education, health care, voting laws, the state budget, and laws and regulations that affect nonprofits.
Coble said nonprofits, individually and collectively, can make a big difference by getting involved in policy discussions.
Heinen, noting they account for 1 in 9 jobs in the state, said nonprofits need to couch their policy positions in a “clear and compelling” way that shows “how they’re using taxpayer dollars” efficiently and effectively, producing “measurable results” that affect the lives of North Carolinians, and using public funds to “leverage” private support.
Because they are organizations that are trusted, he said, nonprofits also have an opportunity to get more North Carolinians engaged in voting and communicating with elected officials about a broad range of issues that affect them.
Nonprofits have been hit hard by the downturn in the economy, Heinen said.
Ninety-three percent have seen an increase in demand for services, 59 percent have not been able to meet the need for their services, and roughly a third have seen a decline in private giving for each of the last three years, he said,
Last year, he said, many nonprofits operated at a deficit, dipped into reserves, and cut staff or services.
The Center says collaboration between nonprofits and government has led to improvements in “red tape” from government grants and contracts, although nonprofits still are reporting inefficiencies in the government contracting system.
With changes in the state’s tax system expected to be a big priority for McCrory and state lawmakers, the Center for Nonprofits has taken the position that charitable nonprofits should be exempt from sales tax, a position it says is consistent with the practice in most other states.
The elimination of that exemption, he said, would cost charities $228 million a year in refunds.
The Center for Nonprofits has scheduled its 2013 Public Policy Forum and NC Nonprofits Day for February 25 and 26.
Legislative leaders and advocates will speak at the Public Policy Forum for North Carolina’s Nonprofit Sector on February 25 in the McKimmon Center, and will be briefed by the Center for Nonprofits the following morning in the Legislative Building, with the opportunity to spend the day talking with lawmakers.